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GM's MyLink Voice Recognition: Great in Theory, Bad in Practice

Chevrolet unveiled MyLink, a new infotainment system initially for the Chevy Volt and Equinox, in New York this week. At its heart is an "enhanced" hands-free voice control system powered by Nuance. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by Mickey Bly, General Motors' head of infotainment engineering, it simply refused to be the cutting-edge, next-generation technology that GM promised. In fact, it refused to work at all.

Voice misrecognition
I've seldom encountered a voice recognition system that worked very well. They often get distracted by crosstalk in the cabin, ask me to repeat names, then bring up the wrong song. Waiting for them to respond is maddening. GPS directions get garbled, too. But with so many companies wanting to keep drivers' eyes on the road, engineers are anxiously pushing to make them work better. It's a work in progress, unfortunately.

The MyLink system has a lot of similarities with MyFord Touch, including voice recognition and interface with Pandora (which provides a stream of music based on your tastes) and Stitcher (which organizes Internet radio) applications. That means access to a lot of music, including 10,000 songs on a USB-enabled hard drive). Driver distraction is an issue if you have to spend too much time looking at the screen.

That's why, according to Bly, GM and Nuance produced "one of the most powerful voice recognition devices out there." It's supposed to "enable intuitive verbal control of smartphone applications," including song play and calling friends or colleagues. Nuance is the company for voice recognition in cars, providing systems for everyone from Audi to Volkswagen. It also supplies Ford, as well as aftermarket suppliers.

Nuance not nuanced
With the media watching, Bly asked the program (mounted in a display) to bring up an artist named Douglas K. But Nuance wasn't very nuanced -- it asked for a clarification, then timed out. A second attempt fared no better. "I'm sorry, I still haven't heard your selection," the female voice said.

Bly said the display model was glitchy, and four more months of development were left before system validation. He suggested we try voice recognition in the Volt and Equinox provided, because it was sure to work perfectly. Unfortunately, as this video demonstrates, it didn't work there, either, repeatedly bringing up the wrong artists:
GM has time to get this right. But in my experience, voice recognition is great in theory, not so great in practice.


Photo: Jim Motavalli
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